Flashback: Journey Fire Bassist Ross Valory, Drummer Steve Smith in 1985

Journey fired drummer Steve Smith and bassist Ross Valory earlier this week after alleging they attempted an elaborate boardroom coup to seize control of the group’s finances. The news was shocking to fans of the arena-rock band, but to Smith and Valory it must have felt like a horrible case of déjà vu. That’s because they were also fired in tandem back in 1985 when the group began work on Raised on Radio and replaced by future American Idol judge Randy Jackson and a series of studio drummers.

The ’85 move came at the direction of Steve Perry. When we spoke to him in 2018, we asked if he had any regrets about it. “I don’t know if I regret it,” he said. “We tried to record that record at the Record Plant in Sausalito and spent quite a bit of time doing that. While I was doing my Street Talk record, Jon [Cain] and Neal [Schon] had gotten together and started sketching some ideas. The ideas they came up with were more R&B-based. Now, I don’t know why they were, but they certainly had more pocket to them.”

“Jon Cain had just gotten a drum machine and built a studio in his house,” he continued. “Raised on Radio had a tendency to be a little bit more R&B than anything we’d ever done before. … Everybody was going through changes at that time, a lot of changes. We brought in Randy Jackson on bass after trying for a couple months to cut the tracks. We cut a lot with Randy Jackson and Larrie Londin and Jon and myself and Neal. We basically recut the record in ten days.”

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When all was said and done, Steve Smith’s drum parts remained on just three songs (“Positive Touch,” “The Eyes of a Woman,” and “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever”) and Valory’s work was nowhere to be found. And when they hit the road to support it, Jackson and drummer Mike Baird took their places. (Here’s the video for the Raised on Radio leadoff single “Be Good to Yourself.”)

“That was very painful and I took it pretty hard,” Smith said in the Journey Behind the Music special. “I really pride myself in my musicianship. That was very difficult for me to deal with.”

It probably became a little easier to swallow when Journey dissolved at the end of the Raised on Radio tour in 1986. When they re-formed in 1996 to record Trial by Fire, both Smith and Valory were welcomed back into the fold. Smith, however, balked when the group wanted to hit the road in 1998 with Steve Perry soundalike Steve Augeri. He was replaced by Deen Castronovo, but Smith returned in 2015 when Castronovo was sidelined by personal and legal issues.

Smith’s return meant that four fifths of the classic Eighties Journey lineup was intact until this week when Smith and Valory were fired for a second time. They’re now down to just two fifths. A long co-headlining tour with the Pretenders begins May 15th and the band has pledged to have a new drummer and bassist by that point. The obvious choice is to bring back Castronovo, but he has commitments with the Dead Daisies that he may be unable to get out of. It’s less clear who might come in on bass, but Neal Schon worked with Marco Mendoza in his recent Journey spinoff group Journey Through Time and he seems like a possible candidate.

It’s interesting to note that the alliances in Journey seem to always be shifting. Schon and Cain had a nasty feud a few years ago, but now they are firmly united against Smith and Valory. Maybe the drummer and bassist can respond by starting their own version of Journey, but without the name rights it would be tough to sell tickets. That would change if they could recruit Steve Perry, but that’s an extreme long shot since he wasn’t even interested in touring to support his 2018 comeback record Traces. Whatever happens, Smith and Valory can at least go down in rock history as the only rhythm section to be fired as a unit at two separate points in history.

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